We often get questions about whether our CCTV viewing app Webcam HQ will work with a particular brand of IP cameras. Most of the time, the answer is yes, no problem, because most cameras use standard video formats such as MJPEG or RTSP+H264.

Sometimes though, the query is about a cool new product that does not seem to be compatible or interoperable with anything. The sleek web site, the exuberant product specifications don’t list any standard. The new gizmo almost certainly uses standard formats (because they are more reliable and vastly cheaper than developing new ones), but the company went out of its way to hide them or bury them under proprietary layers.

Maybe the CEO heard about lock-in and thought it sounded cool. Maybe the designers felt that their hardware and software were so exquisitely integrated that they couldn’t stand the idea of them interoperating with more pedestrian devices and services.

This is not by any means limited to cameras or to video coding standards. There are official or de-facto standards for all kinds of gadgets, connectors, and software APIs. Some companies choose to maximize the usefulness of their products by making them interoperable, some choose not to.

If you are small or medium-sized company, please consider which is the most likely scenario:
Option A: one of your existing customers buys another one of your products because they feel they have to, “to protect their investment”, but they wouldn’t otherwise (wonder why?), or:
Option B: a potential new customer would have purchased your product, but doesn’t because it is not compatible with the gear they already own, or their favorite software.

If you are a large conglomerate with mediocre products, sadly Option A may be the most likely. But if you are a startup, the number of potential new customers vastly outstrips your current user base. Not to mention that if your early adopters won’t buy your new product willingly, you have some bigger problems.

So, please, do yourselves a favor: stop it with the proprietary formats and the non-standard APIs. You are not locking anybody in. You are mostly locking yourselves out.